Over the past several years there have been numerous reports on the rates of death and injury in children with firearms. In fact, a 2-year-old child recently accidentally took his own life in Philadelphia recently. Although the studies don’t entirely agree, two things are certain; 1 death is one too many and children don’t need to exercise their second amendment rights.
The United States has by far the highest rate of gun-related tragedies related to children of any industrialized nation. Deaths related to firearms in children number at least 100 per year. The non-lethal injuries go into the thousands yearly. These injuries and deaths are categorized into three types, accidental, suicide and homicide. Many of the deaths and injuries could be prevented despite the nature of the incident.
Some may disagree, as gun lobbyists oppose restrictions to guns. The NRA and other gun rights advocates believe that it is a right to own as many guns as one wants without restrictions in large. Opponents such as the American Academy of Pediatrics advocate restriction on guns including a complete ban on assault weapons. Given the divisive nature of these extremes, neither will likely occur soon. Middle ground on the issue must be reached.
Accidental deaths and injuries comprise the most dramatic and preventable type. Often young children, many times less than the age of 6, get their hands on a loaded gun and discharge the weapon erroneously injuring themselves or another child, often a sibling or friend. The natural curiosity of children often draws them to something they may not be completely familiar with, but may have seen used by a parent or on television. This curiosity can cause an unintended catastrophe in both young children and adolescents.
Suicides comprise about a third of the firearm deaths in youth. Like accidents, suicides can happen without warning. Most often this occurs in the adolescent group which can be the most difficult to construe. Open conversation should occur regarding bullying and suicide at home. Additionally, access to social media accounts should also be a parental right. Furthermore, screening for depression should occur in physician offices with a validated tool. Be on the lookout for signs and symptoms of depression including emotional lability, mood swings, appetite changes or a prolonged depressed mood.
Homicides are the most frequent cause of death related to guns in adolescents. Exposures to family violence, historically violent neighborhoods, bullying and having access to handguns are all risk factors. Black males have the highest rate of homicide. Conflict management curricula in schools and involvement in community programs aimed at combating violence can help reduce these events. However, the problem is much larger than that. Teens having access to handguns is a larger issue in many metropolitan areas around the U.S.
The most foolproof method of prevention of these tragedies is to opt out of firearms in the home. However, there are practical uses for guns, and they are a way of life in many areas of the country. If guns are stored in the home, they should be kept unloaded and locked away in a safe place. Some communities have even implemented trigger lock programs to further secure handguns. Finally, ammunition should be stored and locked in a separate location from guns.
For those that exercise their Second Amendment right, keep your guns secure and practice good gun safety protocols. We must do everything that we can to protect our children from gun violence whether intentional or accidental. Safety should begin in the home, but policy needs to be affirmed.
Jarret Patton is a pediatrician and can be reached on Twitter @doctorjarret.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com